On Charity

We often think of charity in the material sense, such as giving money. But this is only its most narrow interpretation. Considered more widely, to be charitable is to offer someone something they may not be able to get themselves, or may not entirely deserve, but because they are human, are worthy of it. There is something far more valuable than money that we are able to give selflessly and without conditions: ourselves.

We can be charitable with our time, by giving our partner the painful yet undoubtedly important time to themselves in order to gather their thoughts or calm their inner storms. We can be charitable with our love, recognising that to love is to love freely and unconditionally, accompanied by the sublime understanding that to give love is to receive it. We can be generous with our patience, acknowledging that we operate at a pace according to our internal clocks and that we cannot (no matter how much we might wish otherwise) demand others to comply with our tempo. And these can be summed up within a grander meta-category: for us to be charitable in our understanding of others. This charity is more precious than diamonds and gold, and more elusive than the horizon or one’s own shadow, yet, it is absolutely fundamental in any relationship.

The charity of understanding is rooted in the realisation that we are often petty, ill-tempered, and ignorant. This seeming misanthropism is bound to the recognition that we can also be kind, generous and empathetic, and that in fact; this is exactly what the call for charity entails.

Perhaps you are over bearing and your partner is under bearing, you may need constant affection and they may need little, and you may need to be reminded that you are loved whereas they are amply confident in themselves. A charitable understanding would involve recognising that we enter into relationships from different positions, and that our current position matters just as much as where we have come from and the trajectory we have taken.

While it is easy to rebuke others when they speak clumsily or admonish them when their actions do not match their loftier aspirations, we would be wise to remind ourselves how deeply grateful we are when people extend us understanding when our words fail us, or we fail to act righteously.

When a person in your life lashes out in blind fury, criticises without seeing their own hypocrisy, or collapses into tears over something as innocuous as an advertisement, the charitable will look on not knowing any of the details, but imagining the events that has led this person before them to act in such a manner. Rather than assuming the worst, the charitable will imagine the personal sorrow that lies beneath the tears, or the unresolved childhood anguish that shifts imperceptibly below their criticisms like tectonic plates. They will find the vulnerability behind the pomposity, the pain behind the venom, the defeat behind the pride. They will remember that the person before them was once a child, as pristine and clean as any one of us, and that it was the circumstances in life that brought them to where they are.

To be charitable is to cling steadfastly to the realisation that we are all human and that beneath it all, there is someone wanting to be heard, they just might not be able to put their thoughts into the correct words. All that is required of us is a patient and calm mind which refuses to judge, and can see the innocent child beneath the jaded adult. We must remind ourselves that we are always on the verge of needing someone to come to our imaginative aid. We too have spoken rudely, accused incorrectly, or reasoned poorly, but it was the charitable understanding of others that gave us the freedom to say what we did, to reflect, and to become better versions of ourselves. We must be charitable in withholding our scorn, condemnation and ridicule of others in the hope that they will accord us the same in our forthcoming hour of shame.

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